“RAINTREE COUNTY” (1957) Review

“RAINTREE COUNTY” (1957) Review

As much as some people would hate to admit it, “GONE WITH THE WIND”, the 1939 adaptation of Margaret Mitchell’s 1936 novel, had really cast a long shadow upon the Hollywood industry. Before its release, movies about the Antebellum and Civil War period were rarely released. And by the mid-1930s, Civil War movies especially were considered box office poison. Following the success of “GONE WITH THE WIND”, many Hollywood studios seemed determined to copy the success of the 1939 movie. 

Although “GONE WITH THE WIND” was definitely a Selznick International product, it had been released in theaters by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) Studios, thanks to a deal that allowed the latter to help producer David Selznick finance the movie. Although MGM had released a few movies set during the mid-19th century – including “LITTLE WOMEN” and “SOUTHERN YANKEE” – it did not really try to copy Selznick’s success with “GONE WITH THE WIND”, until the release of its own Antebellum/Civil War opus, “RAINTREE COUNTY”.

Based upon Ross Lockridge Junior’s 1948 novel, “RAINTREE COUNTY” told the story of a small-town Midwestern teacher and poet named John Shawnessy, who lived in 19th century Indiana. Although most of Lockridge’s novel is set in the decade before the Civil War and the next two-to-three decades after the war, the movie adaptation took a different direction. The movie began with John’s graduation from his hometown’s local academy. Many people in Freehaven, Indiana – including John’s father, his teacher/mentor Professor Jerusalem Webster Stiles, and his sweetheart Nell Gaither – expect great things from him, due to his academic excellence. But when John meet a visiting Southern belle named Susanna Drake and has a brief tryst with her during a Fourth of July picnic, his life unexpectedly changes. Susanna returns to Freehaven a month or two later with the news that she is pregnant with his child. Being an honorable young man, John disappoints both Nell and his father by marrying Susanna. Their honeymoon in Louisiana starts off well, but John becomes aware of Susanna’s mental instability and her suspicions that she might be the daughter of a free black woman who had been Susanna’s nanny for the Drake family. However, the Civil War breaks out. Susanna’s emotional state becomes worse and she eventually leaves Indiana for Georgia, the home of her mother’s family. John joins the Union Army in an effort to find her.

After viewing “RAINTREE COUNTY”, a part of me wondered why it was regarded as a Civil War movie. The majority of the film’s action occurred between 1859-1861, the two years before the war’s outbreak. A great deal of the film’s Civil War “action” focused on the birth of John and Susanna’s son – the day the war started, one night in which Susanna informed John about her family’s history, and his rescue of young Johnny at a cabin outside of Atlanta. Otherwise, not much happened in this film during the war. Hell, John eventually found Susanna at a Georgian asylum . . . right after the war. Why this movie is solely regarded as a Civil War movie, I have no idea.

I realize that “RAINTREE COUNTY” is supposed to be about the life of John Shawnessey, but he came off as a rather dull protagonist. Some critics have blamed leading actor Montgomery Clift’s performance, but I cannot. I simply find John to be a rather dull and ridiculously bland character. Aside from losing control of his libido when he first met and later married Susanna, and being slightly naive when the movie first started; John Shawnessey never really made a mistake or possessed a personal flaw. How can one enjoy a movie, when the protagonist is so incredibly dull? Even if the movie had followed Lockbridge’s novel by exploring John’s post-war involvement in politics and the late 19th century Labor movement, I would still find him rather dull and slightly pretentious. Characters like the volatile Susanna, the mercenary and bullying Garwood P. Jones, the witty Professor Stiles, the gregarious local Orville ‘Flash’ Perkins and even Nell Gaither, who proved to harbor flashes of wit, malice and jealousy behind that All-American girl personality were more interesting than John. How can I get emotionally invested in a movie that centered around such a dull man?

I find his goal in this movie – the search for the “raintree” – to be equally dull. Thanks to Lockridge’s novel and Millard Kaufman’s screenplay, the “raintree” symbolizes the Tree of Knowledge, whose golden boughs shed fertilizing blossoms on the land. In other words, John’s goal is to search for self-knowledge, maturity, wisdom . . . whatever. Two main problems prevented this theme from materializing in the story. One, Kaufman barely scratched the surface on this theme, aside from one scene in which Professor Stiles discussed the “raintree” to his students and how its location in Indiana is also a metaphor for American myth, another scene in which John foolish searches for this tree in the local swamp, a third scene in which John and Susanna discusses this myth and in one last scene featuring John, Susanna, their son James, and Nell in the swamp at the end of the movie. Am I to believe that the movie’s main theme was only featured in four scenes of an 182 minutes flick? And the idea of John spending most of the film finding self-knowledge, wisdom, etc. strikes me as superfluous, considering that he comes off as too much of a near ideal character in the first place.

To make matters worse, the movie had failed to adapt Lockridge’s entire novel. Instead, it focused on at least half or two-thirds of the novel – during John Shawnessey’s years during the antebellum period and the Civil War. Let me re-phase that. “RAINTREE COUNTY” has a running time of 160 minutes. At least spent 90 minutes of the film was set during the antebellum period. The next 40 minutes was set during the war and the right after it. at least half or two-thirds of the film during the antebellum period. The rest focused on the Civil War, which struck me as something of a rush job on director Edward Dmytryk’s part, even if I did enjoyed it. In fact, I wish that the film’s Civil War chapter had lasted longer.

Since the John Shawnessey character and his story arc proved to be so boring (well, at least to me), I did not find it surprising that Dmytryk and screenwriter Millard Kaufman ended up focusing most of the film’s attention on the Susanna Drake Shawnessey character. After all, she emerged as the story’s most interesting character. Her childhood neuroses not only made her complex, but also reflected the country’s emotional hangups (then and now) with race. And there seemed to be a touch of Southern Gothic about her personal backstory. But in the end, both Kaufman and Dmytryk fell short in portraying her story arc with any real depth. It is obvious that the conflict between Susanna’s love for her nanny Henrietta and her racism, along with the survivor’s guilt she felt in the aftermath of family’s deaths had led to so much emotional trauma for her. But Kaufman’s screenplay failed to explore Susanna’s racism, let alone resolve it one way or the other.

In fact, the topic of race is never discussed or explored in “RAINTREE COUNTY”. I found this odd, considering how Susanna’s emotional trauma played such a big role in the film’s narrative. The movie featured two African-American actresses – Isabel Cooley and Ruth Attaway – who portrayed the maids that Susanna brought with her from Louisiana. Their presence in the Shawnessey household created a major quarrel between the pair in which John had demanded that Susanna free them or he would leave. And yet . . . Kaufman’s screenplay never gave the two maids a voice. John Shawnessey never really explained or discussed his reasons for being an abolitionist. Although the movie did point out both Southern and Northern racism, no one really discussed slavery with any real depth. Racism only played a role in Susanna’s emotional hangups about her family and nothing else.

In one of the movie’s final scenes; John’s father, Professor Stiles, and Nell were among those who tried to encourage John, a former abolitionist, to run for Congress. To protect the South from the post-war Republicans like Garwood Jones . . . who was definitely a Copperhead Democrat during the war. Watching this scene, I found myself scratching my brow. To protect . . . which South? All of the South? Or the white South? One would think that a former abolitionist and pro-Lincoln supporter like John would be a Republican. I can understand him not being interested in “punishing the South”, or white Southerners. But what about the former slaves of the South? Kaufman’s screenplay did not seem the least interested in pointing out how the freedmen would need protection. And John Shawnessey seemed like the type of character – judging from his pre-war and wartime views on abolition – who would be interested in the fate of those former slaves. Unfortunately . . . the topic never came up.

I have two last complaints about “RAINTREE COUNTY” – its score and title song. I was surprised to learn that Johnny Green had earned an Academy Award nomination for the score he had written for the movie. How in the hell did that happen? I found it so boring. And bland. It was a miracle that the music did not put me to sleep while watching the film. Producer David Lewis had hired Nat King Cole to perform the movie’s theme song, also written by Green. Look, I am a big fan of Cole’s work. But not even he could inject any real fire into this song. Like the score, it was dull as hell. And the song’s style struck me as a bit too modern (for the mid 1950s) for a period movie like “RAINTREE COUNTY”.

Was there anything about “RAINTREE COUNTY” that I enjoyed? Well . . . I enjoyed the art direction and set decorations featured in it. Both teams received deserved Academy Award nominations for their work. Academy Award winner Walter Plunkett (who had won for “GONE WITH THE WIND”) had received an Oscar nomination for his work in this film:

However, I have noticed that like his costumes for female characters in “GONE WITH THE WIND”, Plunkett’s costumes for “RAINTREE COUNTY” have touches of modern fashion in them . . . especially some of the hats worn by Elizabeth Taylor and Eva Marie Saint.

The movie also featured scenes and sequences that I enjoyed. I thought the Fourth-of-July foot race between John Shawnessey and “Flash” Perkins rather permeated with the atmosphere of a mid-19th century Midwestern town. I also enjoyed the humor featured in this sequence. I was also impressed by the New Orleans ball that John and Susanna had visited during their honeymoon, along with John’s visit to a New Orleans “quadroon ball” (I think it was) in order to privately speak with Susanna’s cousin Bobby Drake. Thanks to Dmytryk’s skillful direction and the production designs, I was impressed with the sequence that began with the celebration of Abraham Lincoln’s election as president on Freehaven’s streets and ended with the party as the Shawnessey home held in honor of Susanna’s emancipation of her two slaves. Another sequence that impressed me featured Susanna’s revelations about the true circumstances of her parents’ deaths to John. I found it very dramatic in the right way and it featured a fine performance from Elizabeth Taylor.

But the one sequence I actually managed to truly enjoyed featured John Shawnessey’s experiences as a Union soldier with the Army of the Cumberland. The sequence began with John’s humorous and enjoyable reunion with both “Flash” Perkins and Professor Stiles (who had become a war correspondent). The film continued with a fascinating montage featuring John and Flash engaged in battles at Chickamauga, Resaca and Atlanta, punctuated by Professor Stiles’ grim and sardonic commentaries on the warfare. The action and suspense, along with my interest, went up several notch when John and Flash had become two of Sherman’s “Bummers” (foragers) during the general’s march through Georgia. The entire sequence featured the pair’s arrival at Susanna’s Georgia home, the discovery of young Jim Shawnessey and their encounter with a Georgia militia unit led by a wily Confederate officer. This sequence featuring John’s Army experiences proved to be the movie’s high point . . . at least for me.

“RAINTREE COUNTY” featured some decent performances from the supporting cast. Walter Abel and Agnes Moorehead portrayed John’s parents, T.D. and Ellen Shawnessey. I found Moorehead’s performance satisfactory, but I thought Abel’s portrayal of the idealistic Shawnessey Senior rather annoying and a bit over-the-top. I have to say the same about John Eldredge and Jarma Lewis, who portrayed two members of Susanna’s Louisiana family. DeForest Kelley (who was eight or nine years away from “STAR TREK”) seemed both sardonic and witty as the Confederate officer captured by John and Flash. Rosalind Hayes gave a poignant performance as the housekeeper formerly owned by Susanna’s Georgia family, who rather “delicately” explained Susanna’s emotional turmoil to John.

The supporting performances in “RAINTREE COUNTY” that really impressed me came from Lee Marvin, who was a delight as the extroverted and good-natured Orville “Flash” Perkins. A part of me wishes that his role had been bigger, because Marvin’s performance struck me as one of the film’s highlights to me. I heard that Rod Taylor had went out of his way to be cast as the local scoundrel (read: bully) Garwood Jones. Taylor gave a first-rate performance, but his role struck me as a bit wasted throughout most of the film. I was impressed by Tom Drake’s restrained, yet sardonic portrayal of Susanna’s Cousin Bobby, especially in the scene in which he revealed that Susanna had been somewhat older at the time of her parents’ deaths. Nigel Patrick gave a very memorable performance as John’s mentor, Jerusalem Webster Stiles. Mind you, there were times when I found Patrick’s performance a bit theatrical or overbearing. But I also found his performance very entertaining and humorous – especially his monologue for the Army of the Cumberland montage in the film’s second half.

Eva Marie Saint had the thankless task of portraying the one character that most moviegoers seemed inclined to dismiss or ignore – local belle and John Shawnessey’s first love, Nell Gaither – the type most people would dismiss as some bland All-American girl. And yet, the actress managed to add a good deal of fire, passion and intensity in her performance, transforming Nell into a surprisingly complex character with some semblance of tartness. Elizabeth Taylor was luckier in that she was cast as the movie’s most interesting character – Susanna Drake Shawnessey. Taylor, herself, had once pointed out that she seemed to be chewing the scenery in this film. Granted, I would agree in a few scenes in which I found her Susanna a bit too histronic for my tastes. And Taylor’s Southern accent in this film struck me as somewhat exaggerated. I found this surprising, considering that I found her Upper South accent in 1956’s “GIANT” more impressive. But in the end, I could see how Taylor had earned her Oscar nomination for portraying Susanna. She took on a very difficult and complex character, who was suffering from a mental decline. And I was especially impressed by her performance in that one scene in which Susanna finally revealed the details behind her parents and Henrietta’s deaths. No wonder Taylor ended up receiving an Oscar nod.

Poor Montgomery Clift. He has received a great deal of flack for his portrayal of the film’s main protagonist, John Shawnessey. Personally, I agree that his performance seemed to be lacking his usual intensity or fire. There were moments when he seemed to be phoning it in. Many critics and moviegoers blamed his alcoholism and the car accident he had endured during the movie’s production. Who knows? Perhaps they are right. But . . . even if Clift had not been an alcoholic or had been in that accident, he would have been fighting a losing battle. John Shawnessey never struck me as an interesting character in the first place. Perhaps Clift realized it and regretted his decision to accept the role. However, the actor actually managed to shine a few times. He was rather funny in one humorous scene featuring Saint’s Nell Gaither and Taylor’s Garwood Jones. He was also funny in the moments leading up to John’s foot race against Flash Perkins. Clift certainly seemed to be on his game in the scene featuring John’s angry confrontation with Susanna over her slaves. Also, he managed to create some good chemistry with Marvin and Patrick during the Civil War sequence.

Yes, “RAINTREE COUNTY” had some good moments. This was especially apparent in the film’s Civil War sequences. I found the movie’s production values up to par and I was especially impressed by Walter Plunkett’s costume designs. Most of the cast managed to deliver excellent performances. But in the end, I feel that the movie was undermined by lead actor Montgomery Clift’s listless performance and uneven direction by Edward Dmytryk. However, the real culprit for “RAINTREE COUNTY” proved to be the turgid and unstable screenplay written by Millard Kaufman. Producer David Lewis should have taken one look at that script and realize that artistically, it would be the death of the film.

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“TIMELESS”: Secrets and Mistrust

“TIMELESS”: SECRETS AND MISTRUST

Ever since Season Two of NBC’s “TIMELESS” completed its run, I have found myself re-watching the series from the beginning. It has been something of a slow burn, but I did not wish rush through it. Recently, I watched Season One episode called (1.06) “The Watergate Tape” and discovered something unpleasant about the series’ trio of protagonists. Well . . . at least two of them. 

Ever since the series’ premiere, (1.01) “Pilot”, the initial protagonist, the former NSA agent and rogue time traveler Garcia Flynn, has been trying to convince main protagonist Dr. Lucy Preston that they would become future colleagues and that he had possession of her future diary. Flynn also tried to warn Lucy about Rittenhouse, a mysterious political organization that has been at the forefront of the United States’ development since the American Revolution. Horrified by the idea of being a colleague with a man she regarded as nothing more than a murderer, she kept silent about the encounters.

In the same episode, the creator of the two time machines and head of Mason Industries, Connor Mason, had instructed his programming engineer/time machine pilot Rufus Carlin to provide an audio recording of his missions with Lucy and U.S. Army Delta Force operative Master Sergeant Wyatt Logan. Although Rufus agreed, he changed his mind in the next episode, (2.02) “The Assassination of Abraham Lincoln”. To convince Rufus to cooperate, Mason reminded the engineer that he had bankrolled the latter’s education. When Rufus had refused to continue recording their missions in (1.04) “Party at Castle Varlar”, a Rittenhouse operative threatened to harm Rufus’s family if he did not cooperate. Rittenhouse’s threat was issued again in “The Watergate Tape”when an older operative (or official) appeared outside of Rufus’ home with Mason inside a limousine. The Rittenhouse official made it clear that the organization was monitoring Rufus’ family. He also made it clear that if Rufus continues to refuse recording the time travel missions, the Carlin family might cease to exist.

Both Lucy’s previous encounters with Flynn and Rufus’ secret recordings finally came to light in this episode. After Flynn managed to capture the trio not long after their arrival in 1972 Washington D.C., he revealed his previous encounters with Lucy to both Rufus and Wyatt. Needless to say, both men were surprised and upset. While Flynn kept Wyatt as a hostage, he tasked both Lucy and Rufus to find the missing “doc” that was mentioned in the infamous 18 1/2 missing minutes from one of President Richard Nixon’s Watergate tapes. Both Lucy and Rufus discovered that the “doc” is actually a young African-American woman, whose family has been associated with Rittenhouse for generations. The “Doc” wanted to make her escape from the organization. Lucy overheard Rufus contact Rittenhouse and discovers that he had been providing the organization with audio recordings of their missions and reacts with anger. Meanwhile, Flynn informed Wyatt of his discovery that Rittenhouse had bankrolled Mason Industries and the organization’s murders of his wife and child. Because of this, Flynn became determined to bring down Rittenhouse, using the stolen time machine created by Mason. By the end of the episode, a very angry Wyatt learned about Rufus’ recordings on Rittenhouse’s behalf and instructed the latter to continue recording their missions.

I must not have understood the emotions that emitted from the protagonists in this episode, when I first saw it. As far as I knew, Lucy was angry at Rufus for recording their missions for Rittenhouse. Rufus was angry (at first) over Lucy’s previous discussions with Flynn. And Wyatt was angry at both of them for keeping secrets from him. I did not pay much attention to all of this, because in the following episode, (1.07) “Stranded”, the trio made their peace with each other. But after this latest re-watch of the episode, I found myself speculating on the two secrets kept by Rufus and Lucy and the reactions to them.

I understood why Rufus and Wyatt were upset over Flynn’s revelations that he had been in contact with Lucy. As far as both men were aware, Garcia Flynn was an enemy determined to bring down the United States government and the man who had murdered his family. The U.S. government have been trying to capture or kill him since the first episode. And considering that Lucy had failed to inform them of her interactions with Flynn since the first mission, I would not have been surprised if Wyatt and Rufus had began to wonder about her role on their team or whether she had been associated with Flynn all along.

However, my feelings regarding Rufus’ situation proved to be different. I understood Lucy and Wyatt’s initial anger over their discovery that the former had been recording their missions. But Rufus had made it clear that after their first mission he had refused to continue his recording until Rittenhouse had threatened to kill his family. He had even made an effort to point out that the organization had been observing him, his mother and his brother. Although Wyatt had instructed Rufus to continue recording the missions until they can learn more about Rittenhouse . . . he remained angry at and distrustful of the engineer. So did Lucy. And for some reason, I found myself feeling angry at both of them.

The more I thought about it, the more I realized that Wyatt and Lucy had allowed their anger to get the best of them . . . to the point that they seemed unwilling to comprehend the threat that Rittenhouse had personally posed to Rufus. It was bad enough that Connor had used his past sponsorship of Rufus’s career to blackmail the latter into cooperating.

Following Wyatt’s discovery of Flynn’s past history of Rittenhouse and the threats that Rufus had received, I found myself wondering why he still remained angry at the engineer. Surely he understood why Rufus had agreed to cooperate with Rittenhouse? The latter’s family had been threatened. And considering Flynn’s revelation that Rittenhouse had murdered his family, surely Wyatt understood that Rufus had a good reason to cooperate and keep those recordings a secret in the first place. On one level, he seemed to understand. After all, he did instruct Rufus to continue the recordings. But why remain angry at the other man? Why declare in an angry voice that he could never trust Rufus again? Was Wyatt really that self absorbed and hypocritical? Did he really believe that Rufus should have thought of the team over the Carlin family? Was he privately pissed that he might have to consider that Garcia Flynn’s conflict with Rittenhouse had some merit?

One might accuse Rufus of hypocrisy, considering his reaction to the revelation that Lucy had been in contact with Flynn since the first mission. However, I realized that Rufus had a better excuse for keeping his secret than Lucy had for keeping hers. His family had been threatened. Their safety, along with his, was at stake. Had Flynn threatened Lucy to keep their past conversations a secret? Had he threatened to kill her mother, Carol Preston, if she reveal their encounters to Rufus, Wyatt and Agent Christopher? The answer to both questions were “no”. Not only did Flynn not threatened Lucy to keep their private encounters a secret, he was the one who revealed those encounters to Rufus and Wyatt. And he had seemed a bit surprised that Lucy’s teammates never knew.

And yet . . . like Wyatt, Lucy had remained angry at Rufus by the end of the episode. I found myself wondering why she had remained angry. She seemed well aware that Rittenhouse was a threat. Not only had Rufus informed her that the organization had threatened him and his family, but that it also wanted “the Doc” killed. More importantly, the latter had explained to Lucy on just how dangerous Rittenhouse could be. Yet, she was still pissed at Rufus by the time they had returned to 2016. What the fuck? Was she pissed . . . jealous that Rufus had a better excuse to keep his activities a secret than she had for keeping her conversations with Flynn a secret? Frankly, I found Lucy’s hypocrisy even worse than Wyatt’s. After all, what was her excuse? She was appalled at the idea of her future self becoming a friend and/or ally of Garcia Flynn?

I am certain that many fans of the show would find my above ramblings inconsequential. As I had pointed out earlier, the tensions between Rufus, Lucy and Wyatt were eventually settled by the next episode. Why make a fuss over what happened between them in “The Watergate Episode”. Well . . . I had read several articles about the episode. Although some reviewers had discussed how tensions had arose between the three colleagues, no one had really bothered to discuss the hypocrisy that seemed seemed rampant in this episode. Or how this episode had pretty much exposed the uglier side of their natures – especially that of Lucy and Wyatt. At this point in the series, no one seemed willing to discuss this. And perhaps . . . the episode had annoyed me so much that I had to express myself in some form.

 

Top Five Favorite Episodes of “AGENT CARTER” (2015-2016)

Below is a list of my five favorite episodes from ABC’s “AGENT CARTER”. Created by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, the series stars Hayley Atwell as Agent Margaret “Peggy” Carter: 

TOP FIVE FAVORITE EPISODES OF “AGENT CARTER” (2015-2016)

1 - 2.02 A View in the Dark

1. (2.02) “A View in the Dark” – SSR Agent Peggy Carter’s investigation into the death of an Isodyne Energy employee in Los Angeles ends up with huge ramifications; when the wife of Isodyne’s owner, Hollywood actress Whitney Frost and another employee from the company, Dr. Jason Wilkes (who has volunteered to help Peggy), are exposed to the Zero Matter from the company’s particle accelerator.

1 - 1.06 A Sin to Err

2. (1.06) “A Sin to Err” – While Peggy and Howard Stark’s valet, Edwin Jarvis, investigate a mysterious woman whom Stark may have dated, Chief Roger Dooley and the rest of the Strategic Scientific Reserve (S.S.R.) staff begin to suspect that Peggy might be a traitor in their midst.

2 - 1.05 The Iron Ceiling

3. (1.05) “The Iron Ceiling” – After a message from the Leviathan intelligence agency is decoded; Peggy, Agent Jack Thompson and the Howling Commandos investigate a Soviet military complex to stop a possible sale of Stark’s missing weapons.

2 - 2.07 Monsters

4. (2.07) “Monsters” – While Peggy plans a rescue mission for former Leviathan agent Dottie Underwood, who had been captured in the previous episode, Whitney Frost covers up her murder of husband Calvin Chadwick and some members of the Council of Nine, a secret organization of U.S. industrialists. Whitney tortures Dottie into revealing why Peggy is interested in the Zero Matter and sets a trap that involves Jason Wilkes, along with Edwin and Anna Jarvis.

3 - 1.08 Valediction

5. (1.08) “Valediction” – In this season finale, Peggy and her fellow S.S.R. agents race to stop a pair of Leviathan agents from kidnapping Stark and dumping lethal gas on the population of New York City.

“SOLO: A STAR WARS STORY” (2018) Review

“SOLO: A STAR WARS STORY” (2018) Review

Following the release of Lucasfilm’s ninth film, “STAR WARS: EPISODE VIII – THE LAST JEDI”, the STAR WARS fandom seemed to be in a flux. Although the film received a positive reaction from film critics and was a box office hit, for many reasons it created a division within the franchise’s fandom. And many believe that this division, along with a few other aspects, may have produced a strong, negative impact upon the next film released by Lucasfilm, “SOLO: A STAR WARS STORY”

Why did I bring up this topic? Easy. “SOLO: A STAR WARS STORY” proved to be Lucasfilm’s first box office flop. Certain film critics and defenders of “THE LAST JEDI” had claimed that the negative reaction to the latter film had an impact on the box office performance of “SOLO”. In fact, many of “THE LAST JEDI” detractors claimed the same. Perhaps. Then again, I disliked “THE LAST JEDI”. But that did not stop me from seeing “SOLO” at the theaters. Personally, I suspect other factors played a role in the box office failure of “SOLO” – media coverage of the film’s chaotic production (that included the firing of its first directors, Phil Lord and Christopher Miller) and the fact that Lucasfilm/Disney had released it five months after “THE LAST JEDI”.

But many would point out that the true reason behind the film’s box office failure was its quality. That it was simply not a good movie. Did I agree with this assessment? I will answer this later. But first, I might as well recap the movie’s plot. Written by Hollywood legend Lawrence Kasdan and his son, Jonathan Kasdan; “SOLO: A STAR WARS STORY” is basically an origins tale about one of the franchise’s most popular and legendary characters, Han Solo. The movie began some thirteen years before the events of “ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY” and “STAR WARS: EPISODE IV – A NEW HOPE”, when a young Han and Qi’ra, his childhood friend and first love, attempt to escape the clutches of a Corellian gangster named Lady Proxima and her White Worm gang. They fail in their first attempt, but manage to make it to Corellia’s space port with a stash of stolen coaxium, a powerful hyperspace fuel. The pair manages to bribe an Imperial officer with the coaxium in exchange for passage off the planet. Unfortunately, only Han manages to make it past the gate, due to Qi’ra being snatched by the pursuing White Worm gang. Before he can be detected, Han signs up with the Imperial Navy as a flight cadet.

Three years later, Han is serving as an infantryman on Mimban, due to being expelled from the Imperial Flight Academy for insubordination. He spots a criminal gang posing as Imperial soldiers and tries to blackmail the leader, Tobias Beckett, into taking him with them. Instead, Beckett exposes him as a deserter and Han is tossed into a pit to be fed by an enslaved Wookie named Chewbacca. Since he is able to understand the latter’s language, Han is able to plot an escape with the Wookie. Both make their way to Beckett’s newly stolen starship and convinces the criminal to allow them to join his gang. The group plots to steal a shipment of coaxium on Vandor-1. The plan goes awry, thanks to a group called the Cloud Riders led by Enfys Nest. Both Beckett’s wife Val and their pilot Rio Durant are killed and the coaxium destroyed. A grieving and desperate Beckett is forced to face his employer Dryden Vos, a ruthless and high-ranking crime boss in the Crimson Dawn syndicate. Aboard Vos’ yacht, Han has a reunion with Qi’ra, also working for Vos. He also comes up with a plan to steal another shipment of coaxium to help Beckett repay the debt to Vos.

So . . . did I enjoy “SOLO”? Or did I dislike it? There were certain aspects about the film that left me scratching my head. And these aspects had a lot to do with Lucasfilm and Disney Studios’ decision to declare the Extended Universe (EU) novels as no longer part of the franchise’s canon. The Kasdans the screenwriters of “SOLO” had decided to make changes to Han’s backstory. Instead of being the abandoned scion of a well-to-do Corellian family, Han was literally re-written as an orphan with no surname. An Imperial Navy recruiter ended up providing his surname. The Kasdans made Han three years older. I found these changes unnecessary, especially the age change. Perhaps the Kasdans had felt that a nineteen year-old Han would not work in the movie’s narrative. If that was the case, all they had to do was set the movie seven years before “A NEW HOPE” and not ten years. Also, characters like Han’s old crime boss, the pirate Garris Shrike, and the female Wookie who served as the latter’s cook, Dewlanna. Shrike was not missed. But without Dewlanna as part of the franchise’s canon, how did Lucasfilm and the Kasdans planned to explain Han’s knowledge of Shyriiwook, the Wookies’ language? He not only understood it, but also knew how to speak Shyriiwook . . . somewhat.

But despite my quibbles regarding “SOLO”, I enjoyed it. Who am I kidding? I loved it. For me, “SOLO” was a breath of fresh air after the disappointing “THE LAST JEDI”. What I found ironic about the movie is that many claimed that a backstory about Han Solo was unnecessary for the franchise and not particularly original. First of all, none of the nine movies that followed “A NEW HOPE” were necessary. Neither was the 1977 movie, for that matter. As for originality . . . despite the movie being about Han Solo’s youth, I thought “SOLO” proved to be a surprisingly original entry for the franchise. Although the galaxy’s criminal element has been featured in past STAR WARS films, “SOLO” marked the first time that the franchise delved deep into the galaxy’s criminal organizations. And this is because “SOLO” is basically a heist film. Well . . . “ROGUE ONE” was also a heist story . . . at least in the last third of the film. But that was a tale of politics and espionage. And although politics made a few appearances in this film, “SOLO” was basically a story about criminals – including one Han Solo.

And because this film is basically a story about criminals, one would expect to encounter a good deal of back stabbing and double crossing. To be honest, one could find plenty of such action in political films. It certainly happened in “STAR WARS: EPISODE III – REVENGE OF THE SITH”. The ironic thing is that aside from Beckett exposing Han as a deserter to the Imperial Army, no such betrayals or back stabbing occurred until the film’s last act on the planet Savareen. And when the betrayals and back stabbings finally unfolded . . . God, it was a beautiful thing to behold! And the whole sequence was capped by a familiar figure from the past.

The production values for “SOLO: A STAR WARS STORY” seemed top-notched. Well, most of it. I must admit to feeling somewhat disappointed by the visuals for Corellia. From the drawings I have seen of the planet online, I had imagined that Han’s home world to be a little more colorful than what was seen onscreen:

But I certainly had no problems with the visuals for other planets like Vandor-1, the Fort Ypso village on said planet, the Kessel Run’s maelstrom and Savareen. But I really have to give kudos to production designer Neil Lamont and the film’s art direction team for their creation of the interior sets that served as Dryden Vos’s yacht. Need I say more?

When the media first announced that Alden Ehrenreich had been cast as the young Han Solo, many STAR WARS fans had denounced the casting and insisted that actor/impressionist Anthony Ingruber, who had portrayed the younger version of a character portrayed by Harrison Ford in a movie called “THE AGE OF ADALINE”, should have won the role. I have seen Ingruber do an impressionist of Ford in a You Tube video clip. But I thought that the movie required more than an impressionist and I had seen Ehrenreich in three previous movies. I believed he would do a great job as a young Han Solo. As it turned out, Ehrenreich was more than great. He gave a SUPERB performance than ended up knocking my socks off. Oh my God, he was just brilliant. Ehrenreich captured all of the essence of Han’s personality and traits with very little effort. All I can say is that I am very happy that he had more than lived up to my expectations.

But Ehrenreich was not the only one who knocked it out of the ballpark. The movie also featured a first-rate and enigmatic performance from Emilia Clarke, who portrayed Han’s first love Qi’ra. The character is one of the few instances in which I am glad that Lucasfilm did not use any characters from the Expanded Universe. In the EU, Han’s first love was Rebel Alliance officer Bria Tharen. I am certain that Bria was an interesting character, but she reminded me too much of Leia. Qi’ra, on the other, struck me as a more interesting and complex personality and romantic interest for Han. And Clarke did a marvelous job with the role. Another great performance came from Woody Harrelson, who portrayed Han’s reluctant mentor, a professional thief known as Tobias Beckett. Like Clarke, Harrelson did an excellent job in portraying a morally complex thief who seemed to be a combination of an easy-going personality who was also avaricious and ruthless. No one seemed to mind Donald Glover’s casting as Han’s future friend, Lando Calrissian. Glover gave a very entertaining and first-rate performance as the witty and smooth-talking smuggler, who seemed to harbor a low opinion of Han and a high opinion of himself, the Millennium Falcon, and his droid companion L3-37.

“SOLO” also featured excellent performances from other supporting cast members. Paul Bettany was both entertaining and dangerous as Crimson Dawn’s criminal leader Dryden Vos. Joonas Suotamo’s first-rate portrayal of Han’s life long friend, Chewbacca, struck me both poignant and emotional. More importantly, his character was fully fleshed out and not treated as some glorified Thandie Newton gave a sharp and witty performance as Beckett’s wife Val. Erin Kellyman was surprisingly commanding as Enfys Nest, the young leader of a gang of pirates called Cloud Riders. Ray Park surprised the hell out of me when he briefly repeated his role as former Sith apprentice, Darth Maul. The movie also featured some very entertaining voice performances from Phoebe Waller-Bridge, who was hilarious as Lando’s emotional and sharp-tongued droid L3-37; Jon Favreau, who gave a charming and funny performance as a member of Beckett’s crew, Rio Durant; and Linda Hunt, who was sinister as the criminal leader of the White Worms gang on Corellia. The movie also featured cameos – live and voice – from STAR WARSveterans like Anthony Daniels and Warwick Davis.

What else is there to say about “SOLO: A STAR WARS STORY”? It is a pity that it did not perform well at the box office. Then again, I saw it twice in the theaters and felt more than satisfied. It is not the best STAR WARS movie I have ever seen. But I do believe that it was one of the better ones, thanks to Jonathan and Lawrence Kasdan’s screenplay, a superb cast led by the talented Alden Ehrenreich and director Ron Howard, who I believe may have saved this film, following the firing of Phil Lord and Christopher Miller as the film’s directors. For me, “SOLO: A STAR WARS STORY” is another prime example that Disney Studios and Lucasfilm seemed to be better at stand alone films, instead of serial ones.

 

“FRONTIER” Season One (2016) Episode Ranking

Below is my ranking of the Season One episodes of the Discovery (Canada)/Netflix series called “FRONTIER”. Created by Brad Peyton, Rob Blackie, and Peter Blackie; the series stars Jason Momoa: 

 

“FRONTIER” SEASON ONE (2016) EPISODE RANKING

1. (1.06) “The Gallows” – Irish-born immigrant Michael Smyth and Cree warrior/trader Sokanon conspire to free the imprisoned half-Cree trader/outlaw Declan Harp from the clutches of Hudson Bay Company official Lord Benton and send the Fort James settlement into a state of chaos.

 

2. (1.03) “Mushkegowuk Esquewu” – Following an unexpected attack on their camp, one of the leaders of the Lake Walker trappers, Machk, lead his men to retaliate against a group of Scottish trappers known as the Brown Brothers. Meanwhile, Harp sets out to find the truth, while tensions increase.

 

3. (1.04) “Wolves” – An unexpected arrival to Fort James puts Lord Benton and his military aide, Captain Chesterfield on edge. Ale house owner Grace Emberly conspires to rid herself of a problem. And Michael is shocked when he sees his past love, Clenna Dolan, in Canada; when he last saw her being arrested as a stowaway in Britain.

 

4. (1.02) “Little Brother War” – When a Cree boy is taken hostage by Lord Benton, the tribe allows Harp the chance to find him. Meanwhile, Grace drums herself up a deal with Captain Chesterfield behind closed doors.

 

5. (1.05) “The Discipline” – A shrewd new entrepreneur contrives to topple American fur merchant Samuel Grant and the Brown brothers alike. Lord Benton’s obsession with Harp disintegrates into a ruthless interrogation and torture.

 

6. (1.01) “A Kingdom Unto Itself” – In this series opener about the North American fur trade in the late 1700s, Lord Benton voyages to Canada to restore the Hudson Bay Company’s fur trade and stamp out the trapper activities of Declan Harp. Also on the journey is stowaway Michael Smyth.

 

 

TIME MACHINE: Armistice of 11 November 1918

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TIME MACHINE: ARMISTICE OF 11 NOVEMBER 1918

This month, November 2018, marked the 100th anniversary of armistice that was signed between the Allied/Entente Powers that included Great Britain, France, Italy and the United States and Germany, the remaining member of the Central Powers. This armistice ended the fighting in World War I. 

By late September 1918, war had waged between the Allied Powers and the Central Powers in Europe, the Middle East and Africa for roughly over four years. On the 28th of that month, the German Supreme Army Command had met with Kaiser Wilhelm II and the Imperial Chancellor, Count Georg von Hertling at the Imperial Army Headquarters at Spa in occupied Belgium. The Command had informed the Kaiser and the Imperial Chancellor that the military situation facing Germany was hopeless. Quartermaster General Erich Ludendorff, probably fearing a breakthrough, claimed that he could not guarantee that the Germany’s front would hold for another two hours and demanded a request be given to the Entente for an immediate ceasefire. Then news came of the signing of the Armistice of Salonica at Thessaloniki, Greece; between Bulgaria and the Allied Powers on September 29, 1918. The Central Powers had lost one member of its alliance and the war hostilities ceased on the Bulgarian front.

Prince Maximilian of Baden replaced Georg von Hertling as Chancellor of Germany on October 3, 1918 in order to gegotiate an armistice. Two days later, the German government sent a message to U.S. President Woodrow Wilson to negotiate terms on the basis of his Fourteen Points. The points or Wilson’s demands included the retreat of Germany from all occupied territories, the cessation of submarine activities and Kaiser Wilhelm’s abdication.

Then on October 17, 1918; the Allied forces made its final push towards the German border. While the British, French and American armies advanced, the alliance between the Central Powers began to collapse. The Ottoman Empire (Turkey) signed the Armistice of Mudros on October 30, 1918; ending the hostilities in the Middle East. On November 3, Austria-Hungary signed the Armistice of Villa Guisti with Italy, ending hostilities on the Italian front on the following day, November 4.

By mid-to-late October, Germany began to crumble from within. Faced with the prospect of returning to sea, the sailors of the High Seas Fleet stationed at Kiel mutinied on October 29. Within a few days, the entire city was under their control and the revolution against the empire spread throughout the country. On November 9, 1918; Kaiser Wilhelm II abdicated from Germany’s imperial throne. The former monarch slipped across the border into the Netherlands and remained in exile until his death in 1941, at the age of 82. A German Republic was declared and peace feelers extended to the Allies. Also on November 9, Max von Baden handed over the office of Chancellor to Friedrich Ebert, a Social Democrat. Ebert’s SPD and Erzberger’s Catholic Centre Party had enjoyed an uneasy relationship with the Imperial government since Bismarck’s era in the 1870s and 1880s. They were well represented in the Imperial Reichstag, which had little power over the government, and had been calling for a negotiated peace since 1917.

In the end, the Armistice proved to be a rushed process. The German delegation headed by Matthias Erzberger crossed the front line in five cars and traveled under escort for ten hours across the devastated war zone of Northern France. They arrived on the morning of November 8, 1918 and were taken to the secret destination aboard the Allied Powers’ Supreme Commander Marshal Ferdinand Jean Marie Foch’s private train parked in a railway siding in the forest of Compiègne. The Germans were handed the list of Allied demands and given 72 hours to agree. The latter included complete German demilitarization, immediate evacuation of occupied territory, surrender of weaponry, vacated territory to be occupied by Allied troops at Germany’s expense, and evacuation of German forces in Africa. The Germans were able to correct a few impossible demands (for example, the decommissioning of more submarines than their fleet possessed), extended the schedule for the withdrawal and registered their formal protest at the harshness of Allied terms. But they were in no position to refuse to sign.

On Sunday 10 November, the German delegation received news of the Kaiser’s abdication and departure via Parisian newspapers shown to them. That same day, Ebert instructed Erzberger to sign the armistice. The cabinet had earlier received a message from the German Army Supreme Commander Paul von Hindenburg, who requested that the armistice be signed even if the Allied conditions could not be improved on. Germany and the Allied Powers agreed at 5:00 am on November 11, 1918, to sign the Armistice of Compiègne. It became effective at 11:00 am (Paris time).

The armistice went through prolongation (extension) three times – between November 11, 1918 and January 10, 1920 – before it was finally ratified on that final date at 4:15 pm. Also ratified on that date was the Treaty of Versailles, which brought a final end to World War I. Celebration of the Armistice became the centerpiece for the war’s memories, along with salutes to the unknown soldier. Nations built monuments to the dead and the heroic soldiers, but seldom to the generals and admirals. November 11 is commemorated annually in many countries under various names such as Armistice Day, Remembrance Day, Veterans Day, and in Poland it is Independence Day.

For more information on the Armistice of Compiègne, read the following book:

*“Peace at Last: A Portrait of Armistice Day, 11 November 1918” (2018) by Guy Cuthbertson

“Unnecessary Time Periods”

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“UNNECESSARY TIME PERIODS”

I am a big fan of the DCEU or at least the franchise’s first phase. I am also a fan of the 2017 hit film, “WONDER WOMAN”. I was also pleased to discover that the film has managed to convince Hollywood studios – especially Warner Brothers and Disney – to create more comic book movies with a female protagonist. 

But my pleasure in both has somewhat been muted by what seemed to be a growing trend in Hollywood – to have these upcoming movies set in the past. Why? Because the successful “WONDER WOMAN” film was set in the past – during the last week or two of World War I? I had no problems with this, considering that “BATMAN V. SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE” had established Diana Prince aka Wonder Woman’s presence during that conflict with a single photograph. Hell, the television series from the 1970s had established Wonder Woman’s origin story during World War II during its Season One and brought her character into the present (late 1970s to early 1980s) in the seasons that followed.

However, I learned that the second Wonder Woman movie starring Gal Gadot will be set in 1984. To drive home that point, it is called “WONDER WOMAN 1984”. Personally, I do not understand this decision. Was this Warner Brothers and Patty Jenkins’ attempt to cash in on the first movie’s success? Was it to undermine the back story for Wonder Woman that was established by Zack Snyder in both “BATMAN V. SUPERMAN” and “JUSTICE LEAGUE” in order to make her seem like a more ideal character? Who knows. But this movie will definitely establish a plot hole in the franchise’s overall narrative.

Warner Brothers also plans to create and release “SUPERGIRL”, who happened to be Kara Zor-El, the first cousin of Clark Kent aka Superman. And they plan to set this movie in the 1970s. Why? Apparently, Supergirl is the older cousin and to the movie’s screenwriters, it made sense that she would reach Earth before him. But . . . “MAN OF STEEL” and “BATMAN V. SUPERMAN”had already established that Superman was the first powerful alien to become known to Humans. In fact, there have been others before the arrival of General Zod and his followers who were aware of Clark’s powers. You know . . . like Jonathan and Martha Kent, some of Smallville’s citizens and Lois Lane. By setting “SUPERGIRL” in the 1970s, Warner Brothers would again . . . undermining a narrative point established in previous films. Why not follow the example of the television shows like “SUPERGIRL” and “SMALLVILLE” on the CW by having Kara aka Supergirl’s spacecraft knocked off course and forced into the Phantom Zone for a decade or two? So, by the time Kara finally reached Earth, her cousin Kal-El would have grown up and become Superman. Why not use this scenario?

“WONDER WOMAN”, Marvel’s Kevin Feige had finally decided that the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) will feature a comic book movie with a woman in the starring role . . . namely “CAPTAIN MARVEL”. Mind you, I still find it cowardly that Feige had decided to wait until the success of another studio to produce a movie featuring a comic book heroine in the lead. Especially since the character Natasha Romanoff aka Black Widow has been part of the franchise since the 2010 movie, “IRON MAN 2”. However . . . I discovered that “CAPTAIN MARVEL” will be set in the 1990s. And I ask myself . . . why?

The official word is that the movie’s time period is being used to set up Nick Fury’s trajectory toward forming The Avengers years later. After all, both Samuel L. Jackson and Clark Gregg as future S.H.I.E.L.D. Directors Nick Fury and Phil Coulson will be in the film. But this is so unnecessary. I realize that Tony Stark aka Iron Man was not the first enhanced being or metahuman (so to speak) to attract the attention of S.H.I.E.L.D. Fury must have known about Steve Rogers aka Captain America’s war service in “CAPTAIN AMERICA: FIRST AVENGER”. He must have known about Hank Pym and Janet Van Dyne’s S.H.I.E.L.D. activities in the 1980s as Ant-Man and the Wasp. And her certainly knew about Dr. Bruce Banner’s experiments in gamma radiation and eventual transformation into the Hulk before the events of “THE INCREDIBLE HULK”. After all, 2008’s “THE INCREDIBLE HULK”was not an actual origin movie. So, I find myself wondering why Feige found it necessary to set up Fury’s trajectory with enhanced beings with Carol Danvers aka Captain Marvel . . . in the 1990s. Unless “CAPTAIN MARVEL” is simply another attempt by a studio or producer – in this case, Kevin Feige and the MCU – to cash in on the success of “WONDER WOMAN”. Why not just admit it? Especially since it seems so obvious.

And by the way, why are all of these films led by a comic book heroine? Just because “WONDER WOMAN” was set in the past, there is no reason why every single comic book movie with a woman in the lead have to be set in the past? What is the point in all of this? Yes, “CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER” was set in the past. However, the following two movies featuring Captain America were set in the present. So, why did Marvel feel it was necessary to set “CAPTAIN MARVEL” in the past? Why is it that none of the other MCU movies led by men set in the past? Why did Warner Brothers believe it was necessary to set its second Wonder Woman and Supergirl films in the past? Has this been the case for any of their movies with a male lead or ensemble-oriented movies like “SUICIDE SQUAD”?

I found myself wondering if there is another reason why these three upcoming comic book heroine movies are being set in the past. But I could not find any. The time periods for these films are so unnecessary and an obvious attempts to copy the success of “WONDER WOMAN”. The thing is . . . Wonder Woman’s past during World War I and the photograph discovered by both Bruce Wayne aka Batman and Lex Luthor allowed them to recognize her as a possible metahuman or enhanced being. For me, there is no good reason for “WONDER WOMAN 1984”“SUPERGIRL” or “CAPTAIN MARVEL” to be set in the past.